Photo credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times
In their best start of the series so far, the LA Kings took the crowd out early and dominated the San Jose Sharks from puck drop. I’ll just show all the goals in GIF form but for a more comprehensive look, check out Jewels From the Crown‘s recap.
Check out Pearson’s face after he picked up his first career playoff point. Dude is JAMMED.
LA got a late power play at the end of the first period but was unable to score. They started the second with 1:29 remaining and it didn’t take long before a bounce went their way. Jeff Carter got credit for the goal, but really the credit should go to Brad Stuart who accidentally deflected it into his own net.
Drew Doughty teamed up with Carter and Marian Gaborik to create this play, but Gaborik’s read of the situation on the ice really makes it happen (and a lucky bounce for the Kings). Kings’ color analyst Jim Fox does an excellent job breaking it down. Basically, with Doughty down near the blue line, he was wide open for a possible one-timer. However, instead of taking the obvious route, Gaborik finds an open Carter who spins away from pressure and ends up banking the puck in off of Stuart. It’s a fortunate bounce and flukey, but the Kings will take it nonetheless.
That ended Niemi’s night, not that any of the goals were his fault. Sharks’ coach Todd McLellan was trying to send his message to his team as they’d been a bit slow and lackluster up to that point. And it sort of worked. While the Sharks only registered ten shots on goal over the rest of the period and went several minutes between shots, during the last 10 minutes they had a lot of shot attempts and significant zone time.
So what’s been different for LA over the last couple of games? The biggest thing is that they’ve been building off a good performance in Game 3 following horrendous outings in the first two games. Since Game 3, they’ve been cleaning up a lot of things that needed work. Mostly, it’s the little things put together that are making the difference. Things like working as a 5-man unit, better defensive support to their goaltender (i.e.: clearing rebounds, limiting odd man rushes, blocking shots, etc) and most importantly, closing the gap. San Jose has started to model their game a bit after the Chicago Blackhawks with long stretch passes and waves of guys coming with speed. In Game 5, LA figured out how to counteract that stretch pass and use their own speed (the slowness is mostly on defense) to create scoring chances for themselves.
Probably aside from the rest of the team picking up their game was Jonathan Quick‘s improvement in net. On Saturday night, he was stellar, tracking pucks, controlling rebounds and finding shots through traffic. He had two saves of the game. The first one was on Brent Burns as he went post-to-post to deny a sure goal on the power play. The other was this beauty below.
Gumby does it again. The balance, strength and flexibility on display in this save are just insane. When he’s at his best, he frustrates the best players in the world. Just when you think you’ve got an open net or you’ve found a hole, somehow he finds a way to keep the puck out. The Kings will need Quick to put on another show like that on Monday night if they have any chance at getting to Game 7.
The more balanced lineup is also coming up huge for the Kings.
Justin Williams’ presence on the 3rd line coming up huge. Kings have out-shot the Sharks 14-1 with him on the ice at evens.
— Robert P. (@RobertJFTC) April 27, 2014
Robert tweeted that at the end of the second period.
This tweet came just prior to the start of the third period.
Every line now has a combination of a space maker, a playmaker and a scorer which seems to have helped the Kings generate some offense. They’re going to need that depth scoring if they expect to keep going in the series.
Despite this being their best game so far, Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell sees room for improvement. “I didn’t think they [San Jose] played their best game. I don’t think we did either, but we found a way to do enough to win.” He knows that they’re going to have to keep working hard to win another game. The key to that? “Just stay in the moment. We believe. This core group, we’ve done it a bunch of different ways over the years but we really haven’t done this. I think everyone is kind of using it as a little bit of motivation to try and claw back. It’s like looking up hill. You look at the top of the hill, all of the sudden it seems pretty daunting. But if you look just right in front of you, it’s more manageable.”
So far, one step at a time is paying off for the Kings.